Roll Over Beethoven

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"Roll Over Beethoven"
Chess single
Single by Chuck Berry
from the album Chuck Berry Is on Top
B-side "Drifting Heart"
Released May 1956 (1956-05)
Format 7" 45 rpm & 10" 78 rpm record
Recorded April 16, 1956[1]
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:23
Label Chess #1626
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) Leonard Chess, Phil Chess
Chuck Berry singles chronology
"No Money Down"
"Roll Over Beethoven"
"Too Much Monkey Business"

"Roll Over Beethoven" is a 1956 hit single by Chuck Berry originally released on Chess Records, with "Drifting Heart" as the B-side. The lyrics of the song mention rock and roll and the desire for rhythm and blues to replace classical music. There is a popular saying that a deceased person would "roll over in their grave" if they heard something that would have deeply disturbed them had they been alive. The title line of the song is a reference to how Ludwig van Beethoven would do just that in reaction to the advent of the new musical genre that Chuck Berry was leading. The song has been covered by many other artists and Rolling Stone ranked it #97 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[2]

Inspiration and lyrics[edit]

According to Rolling Stone[3] and Cub Koda of Allmusic,[4] Berry wrote the song in response to his sister Lucy always using the family piano to play classical music when Berry wanted to play popular music. The line "roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news" refers to how both classical composers would "roll over in their graves" upon hearing how their classical music had given way to rock and roll.

In addition to classical composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the lyrics mention or allude to several popular artists. "Early in the Mornin'" is the title of a Louis Jordan song and "Blue Suede Shoes" refers to the Carl Perkins song. Finally, "Hey Diddle Diddle" which comes from the nursery rhyme, "The Cat and the Fiddle", is an indirect reference to Berry's Chess stablemate Bo Diddley, who was an accomplished violin player. Although the lyrics mention rocking and rolling, the music that the classics are supposed to step aside for is always referred to as "rhythm and blues" (R&B). Arthur Alexander appropriated the lyric "a shot of rhythm and blues" for the title of his later song.

Later in the song, a "rhythm revue" describes the old style R&B show with many featured artists appearing on one bill in front of a big band.


Berry's version was originally released as a single by Chess Records in May 1956 with "Drifting Heart" as the B-side.[5] It peaked at #7 on the Billboard R&B chart and #29 on the pop chart. "Roll Over Beethoven" and three other Berry songs appeared on the Rock, Rock, Rock album, ostensibly a soundtrack to the film of the same name, but only four of the twelve songs on the album appeared in the film.

There have been many subsequent releases on compilation albums.

Critical acclaim[edit]

Berry's single was one of 50 recordings chosen in 2003 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In 2004, "Roll Over Beethoven" was ranked number 97 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". In the accompanying review, they wrote that it "became the ultimate rock & roll call to arms, declaring a new era".

The opening guitar solo sounds similar to Chuck Berry's most famous hit, "Johnny B. Goode". The sheet music itself is very similar.[6] Koda calls it a "masterpiece" that helped to define the rock and roll genre.[4]

Cover versions[edit]

"Roll Over Beethoven"
The Swedish single release of the song, backed with "Please Mr. Postman"
Single by The Beatles
from the album With the Beatles
B-side "Please Mister Postman" (Canada)
Released November 22, 1963
Recorded July 30, 1963
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:48
Label Capitol 72133 (Canada)
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) George Martin
With the Beatles track listing

"Roll Over Beethoven" is one of the most widely covered songs in popular music – "a staple of rock & roll bands" according to Koda[4] – with notable versions by Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles and the Electric Light Orchestra.

The Beatles[edit]

"Roll Over Beethoven" was a favorite of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison even before they had chosen "the Beatles" as their name, and they continued to play it live right into their American tours of 1964. Their version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was recorded on July 30, 1963 for their second British LP, With the Beatles, and features Harrison on vocals and guitar.[7][8] In the United States, it was released April 10, 1964 as the opening track of The Beatles' Second Album.[9] and May 11, 1964 as the opening track of the second Capitol EP "Four by the Beatles". It was released on Capitol in Canada with "Please Mister Postman" as the B-side. This release reached #68 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100[10] and #30 on Cashbox.[11]

In 1994, the Beatles released a live version of "Roll Over Beethoven" on Live at the BBC. This live version was recorded on February 28, 1964 and broadcast on March 30, 1964 as part of a BBC series starring the Beatles called From Us to You.[12] This version of "Roll Over Beethoven" was used in the film Superman III directed by Richard Lester, who also directed the Beatles' first two films, A Hard Day's Night and Help!.

The Rutles' song "Blue Suede Schubert" is based on the Beatles' cover of this song.


Electric Light Orchestra[edit]

"Roll Over Beethoven"
Single by Electric Light Orchestra
from the album ELO 2
B-side "Queen of the Hours"
Released 12 January 1973 (UK)
27 January 1973 (US)
Format 7" single
Recorded 1972, at Air Studios
Genre Rock and roll, hard rock, art rock
Length 8:09 (US album version)
7:03 (UK album version)
4:32 (single)
3:42 (US promo single)
Label Harvest
Writer(s) Chuck Berry/Ludwig van Beethoven
Producer(s) Jeff Lynne
Electric Light Orchestra singles chronology
"10538 Overture"
"Roll Over Beethoven"
ELO 2 track listing

Electric Light Orchestra's (ELO) elaborate eight-minute reworking of "Roll Over Beethoven", appearing on the album ELO 2 in 1973, included an opening musical quote from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and clever interpolations of material from the symphony's first movement into Berry's song. This became one of ELO's signature songs and was used to close all of their concerts. "Roll Over Beethoven" was the second single released by the band in January 1973, and became their second consecutive top ten hit in the UK, as well as a hit in the United States when an edited version of the track was taken from ELO 2.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1973) Peak
Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart[13] 53
Dutch GfK chart[14] 19
German Media Control Singles Chart[15] 22
UK Singles Chart[16] 6
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[17] 42
U.S. Cash Box Top 100 Singles 48
U.S. Record World Singles[18] 31

Iron Maiden[edit]

Iron Maiden included a cover of the Berry song on the B-side of their single "From Here to Eternity", called "Roll Over Vic Vella". The song features different lyrics (written by Steve Harris) about the band's long-time tour manager, Vic Vella.

Narvel Felts[edit]

Narvel Felts covered the song in 1982. His version went to #64 on the Hot Country Singles charts in 1982.[19]

The Velaires[edit]

In 1961, the Flairs, not to be confused with the doo-wop group, recorded a version unsuccessfully. Later that year they changed their name to the Velaires and signed with Jamie Records and released it again. It quickly reached #1 in Los Angeles. They had also been given the opportunity to perform it on American Bandstand.

Pat Wayne and the Beachcombers (Jimmy Page)[edit]

This 1964 version is most noteworthy because of the involvement of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page on guitar. Because of this, it was re-released in 1989 as part of the compilation Jimmy Page: Session Man.


  1. ^ 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Chuck Berry (CD). Chuck Berry. MCA Records. 1999. MCAD-11944. 
  2. ^ Roll Over Beethoven, The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  3. ^ "Rolling Stone Review of "Roll Over Beethoven"". Retrieved June 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c ""AMG Review of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven"". Retrieved June 17, 2011. 
  5. ^ Dietmar Rudolph. "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry: The Chess Era (1955-1966)". Retrieved March 1, 2007. 
  6. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". New York, NY: Rolling Stone. December 9, 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-06-22. Retrieved December 26, 2011. [not in citation given (See discussion.)]
  7. ^ Mark Lewisohn (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. pp. 34, 37. ISBN 0-517-57066-1. 
  8. ^ Show 5 - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll: The rock revolution gets underway. [Part 1] : UNT Digital Library
  9. ^ Mark Lewisohn (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. p. 201. 
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles. Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc. p. 67. ISBN 0898201888. 
  11. ^ Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 34. 
  12. ^ Live at the BBC (booklet). The Beatles. London: Apple Records. 1994. 31796. 
  13. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  14. ^ Hung, Steffen. "Discografie Electric Light Orchestra". Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  15. ^ " - Electric Light Orchestra". Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  16. ^ "Electric Light Orchestra". Offfical Charts Company. Retrieved March 5, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Electric Light Orchestra - Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  18. ^ Hawtin, Steve. "Song artist 171 - Electric Light Orchestra". Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 143. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 

External links[edit]